A Blog About Luck

I can’t quite believe this is my first blog of fourth year – considering it’s the middle of week nine… What can I say, time has flown by.

Over the last couple of weeks, my every waking minute (and some of the asleep ones too) has been taken up by ‘Me, Myself, and I’ a university brief set by Elastic Creative, an Edinburgh based Graphic Design company (see my blog about them here – https://susannahsdesignblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/an-elastic-fantastic-day-out/)

The brief required us to create a minute long self-promo video, the idea being we could use this content to grab employers attention once we graduate in the not too distant future (hush, we don’t dwell on this). It was quite a challenging process coming up with an idea, as getting my 22 years of personality accurately summed up in 60 seconds wasn’t quite as easy as I first thought.

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Storyboarding, initial sketching and draft illustrations

After I considered a number of ideas (and quickly rejected them) I came up with using the concept of ‘Luck.’ I remembered a quote my Granda always mentioned, ‘The harder you practice, the luckier you get,’ and when I thought about it, I realised that it applied to me. I’ve always been game to try new things, work really hard, and push my own boundaries, and subsequently – opportunities have come my way.

Visual Language Development – Playing Cards
Visual Language Development – Playing Cards

I used the versatile visual language of playing cards in order to get my concept of being a ‘Lucky Designer’ across, and I think I’ve done so fairly successfully. This project has taught me a lot about After Effects software, and I think I have come along quite a lot since my Square Meals animation I produced this time last year. I think I’m finally closing that gap between what I wish my animations to look like in my head, and what I am actually technically capable of producing.

Watch ‘A Film About Luck’ below, and if you’re looking for a lucky Junior Designer, give me a bell!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/111835617″>A Film About Luck</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user17107561″>Susannah McGowan</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Once Upon a Type – An Evening with Paul Barnes

Paul Barnes at the Long Lunch – Poster designed by Peter Saville
Paul Barnes at the Long Lunch – Poster designed by Peter Saville

I haven’t written in a while, and I intend to post a final retrospective of my hectic summer, but in the meantime I’d like to write about the Long Lunch!

On Thursday, myself and a bus-load of other DJCAD graphics bunnies had the pleasure of attending a talk by Paul Barnes at the ECA. The Long Lunch is one of the highlights of my year, when the celebs of the design world descend on Scotland to impart some of their infinite knowledge on our eager ears. It’s also a great opportunity to network with the Scottish design community, and I got a chance to say hello to Iain, Matt and Emil from Whitespace (an Edinburgh based agency I worked in this summer.)

The man of the hour Paul Barnes is a famous typographer and graphic designer working in London with his partner, Peter Saville (another famous designer who incidentally designed the evening’s sexy promotional poster.) Named one of the Guardian’s top 50 UK designers, Barnes has designed such typefaces as the impossibly thin Marian, the instantly recognisable Guardian Collection, and the world’s fastest typeface, Gabriello (as worn by Usian Bolt.)

Some of Barnes' Typefaces
Some of Barnes’ Typefaces

Barnes’ twitter description reads:

“Family. Graphic design. Typography. Type design. Grave stones. Cycling. Running. Swimming. Cairn Terriers. AVFC. The other partner in Commercial Type.”

Hold on a second – Grave stones? I’ll admit that before the talk I was imagining a suspicious hooded character with a compulsion to lurk around graveyards at night, but his explanation was much less sinister. In fact, now I’ve been enlightened, I think I might start going for similar gothic wanderings.

Grave stones and crypts are the unlikely home to some really cool typefaces. Have a look and you will see the forgotten hand chiselled work of many a talented stonemason from decades and centuries past. This interests Barnes, because the depreciation of those characters over time produces some remarkable weathered letterforms. Heavy weight styles slim down to Roman, and ornate serifs appropriately change with the times to resemble their more modern sans-serif counterparts. Over the years the type may fade altogether, the last trace of an individual’s memory taken by the wind.

My favourite of his typefaces has got to be the Dala Floda Collection, a quirky and stout display font inspired by Barnes’ study of tombstones. The concept of eroded forms makes for a striking font, which works brilliantly as Commerical Type’s own logo, as well as Creative Review’s. I think it represents Barnes’ talent, his curiosity for his field, and his commitment to pushing the boundaries of what type can be.

The talk concluded with what we’d all been waiting for, the raffle! With a top prize of £350 worth of Commercial Type’s typefaces, this was the most excited I’d ever been to win a prize (my inner geek was on Cloud 9). Alas, it was not to be, and I left without any of those gorgeous ligatures. What I do leave with is an invigorated interest in typography, and I’m very excited to dive into the ISTD briefs later in the year.

Properly Entertaining – Dead Letters

Visual Theatre at its best – Dead Letters
Visual Theatre at its best – Dead Letters

On Saturday I finally got to experience some of the intoxicating frenzy that causes tens of thousands of people to descend on Scotland’s capital for one month a year – the famous Edinburgh Fringe festival. Countless performers lined the city’s winding cobbled streets, filling the air with a heady cacophony and a buzzing atmosphere. At every corner there is another enthusiastic act ready to excite, captivate, charm or occasionally repel you.

We were spoilt for choice for acts to attend, but I was most excited to go and see Dead Letters – a visual production by the young Prop Up Theatre Company, who had travelled up from London to perform. Five star reviews and an intriguing plot promised an entertaining show, but above all I was looking forward to seeing the acting chops on one of the main characters – Katie, one of my oldest pals from back home.

Best friend induced bias aside, I really do recommend you go and see this fledgling cast in action. Written and directed by themselves, Prop Up tell the story of George the Postman and the Dead Letter Office, the forsaken room all undelivered letters are left to gather dust.

I was slightly thrown off by hearing Katie come out with a strong Yorkshire accent, but it’s a credit to her talent that I soon forgot all about her presence, as I was drawn into the Prop Up world. The story was performed with sensitivity and humour, and each character was brilliantly developed. Scene to scene was dextrously transformed using everyday objects in a very creative manner – umbrellas, cardboard, letters and drainpipes all featured in various guises.

Katie showing off her acting chops
Katie showing off her acting chops

Accompanied by an original and dynamic score (by YoungKhan), the play had a great pace and perfect timing, which caused the fifty minutes to fly in. As the confetti settled and the cast took a bow, I found myself very sad it was all over. Most impressive however was the post-performance letter clean up; visual theatre is a messy business!

For anyone who fancies something a little different this year at the Fringe, don’t hesitate to catch this talented group in action. (And keep an eye out for an award-winning flyer designed by yours truly.)

So Far So Good

Week One at Good Creative

Last week I finished what was a brilliant and pivotal eight-week placement with ANTA. I had the most wonderful time at the company, building my business knowledge, my professional network and my confidence. However, before I even had time to catch my breath, I started my new internship at Good Creative in Glasgow.

Although I didn’t have much time to dwell on it, I did begin to feel pretty nervous about the new start. I had just begun to feel settled in my role at ANTA, but here I was – new city, new job, and a whole new host of individuals to get to know and – fingers crossed – impress.

Good Creative was started in 2004, and has since gone from strength to strength. Their mantra is a modest one – they always aim to be great, so at the very least they will be good. I can manage that, can’t I? I needn’t speak too soon, as it would seem their standard of ‘Good’ is pretty high – they have won six Gold Awards in six years at the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards. I think I’ve got my work cut out.

The office is beautiful, occupying the top floor of the Wasp Studios in the Merchant City area of Glasgow City Centre. Exposed brick, glass fronted meeting rooms, and black vinyl graphics amount to a contemporary and stylish office space. From the outset the team were very friendly, and I’m learning a lot from each of them already. With help from Dave, one of Good’s designers, I’m getting my teeth into a variety of projects; logo design, layout work, and infographics.

It’s all very fast paced and the turnaround for projects is unsurprisingly much faster than in university. This makes for an exciting work environment where you’ve got to be motivated, efficient, and creative. There is little time for the drawn out contemplation of concepts I’m used to – as Dave succinctly put – ‘Get your idea, get working, get paid.’

This whirlwind pace isn’t just limited to the studio, as Glasgow is currently heaving with tourists here for the Commonwealth Games. It’s a great time to be in such a vibrant city at such a remarkable time! I unfortunately don’t have any tickets for the sport, but I’m enjoying soaking up the atmosphere (and the glorious sunshine!)

With my first week under my belt, I’m not even going to apologise for the puns that will inevitably ensue in this and subsequent posts. I think I’m in pretty good hands.

In the meantime good bye, good luck and good riddance.

OK, I’ll stop.

That’s All Folks – Week Eight at ANTA

So that’s that!

Eight weeks at ANTA done and dusted.

It seems like a lifetime ago when the train pulled to a stop at the deserted train station in Fearn where I began my internship experience. Since that day I’ve learned more that I could have imagined about business, about design, and most importantly about myself.

Living a transitory lifestyle, moving between cities at a moment’s notice, has taught me that I can work from anywhere – all I need is a laptop, a change of clothes and a cup of coffee and I’m good to go! I always thought that I’d like to work in Scotland or London perhaps, but this experience has given me the confidence to widen my horizons. Why not New York, Barcelona, Tokyo? At the risk of being clichéd, I now truly believe that the world is my oyster, and I can’t wait to explore it further.

I feel that working within ANTA will have improved my skills as a graphic designer. The most important skill a designer could have is to understand their client’s needs. Being a fly on the wall in a business has given me a unique insight into the corporate world, and a commercial awareness that will be undoubtedly invaluable to future projects.

Having relatively few employees, everyone at ANTA plays a crucial role in the overall running of the business. I learned from early on there is no surplus, and every individual has a part to play. It took me a couple of weeks to realise that this included me as well. As the sole graphic designer in the company, it was very apparent how my work could contribute to the business, and seeing my designs used in store, online, and driving sales has been incredibly exciting. It is encouraging to see that even after only three years at university, the skills I have learned are extremely valuable to a successful company. I seem to have made a positive impression, as excitingly, I have been asked to join the team again in September for a few weeks before fourth year. I can’t wait!

Before this summer, I was optimistic about my future. But this experience has elevated that hope into a firm confidence in my own capability. Saltire has fuelled my ambition and transformed my outlook on life, and I am so grateful to all who made this opportunity possible.

That’s one placement under my belt, now onto the next adventure.

Thanks for reading!


Penultimate Week at ANTA

I have just finished my seventh week of my internship with ANTA. The whole experience has flown by, and I can’t quite believe that it is coming to an end. I have been manically busy for the last few weeks, which is why my blogging has fallen by the wayside, but I’ll get you up to speed.

I’ve been working between Edinburgh and Glasgow for the last while, moving where and when I am required. I have become very good at living from a suitcase, as I don’t know where I will be from one day to the next! Many thanks are owed to my wonderfully patient colleague Heather who has put me up (and put up with me) when I erratically turn up in Glasgow.

As well as living out of each other’s pockets, Heather and I have been working closely over the last while in order to manage the website, as well as plan for the future of ANTA’s online platform. Heather, who is a business graduate, and fellow Saltire Scholar from last year’s cohort, has been wonderful as a guide and mentor to learn the ropes of what it takes to run a business from behind the scenes. In turn, I have been contributing my design knowledge and skills in creative software so that Heather can take on some of my ideas once I leave.

The focus for ANTA in the coming weeks is the Commonwealth Games, as well as the summer festivals in Edinburgh. Being the latest endeavour, the Glasgow store will really benefit from the influx of tourists and footfall that the upcoming games will bring. With this in mind, the two shops were to be re-styled, to maximise the interest from new customers. This week I worked to assist the Interior Designers as a ‘visual merchandiser.’ With careful planning, the shops were transformed from home-ware showrooms, into tourist-friendly gift-shops. Large items and breakables were moved away from the front of the shop, and hand-luggage style bags and small gift items like scarves and mugs were made the focus. It was fascinating to see the planning and thought that goes into how a store is laid out, and how it directly influences how customers buy.

My personal contribution the restyling was designing new large scale window display posters, and contacting printers for quotes and trying to get the best deal! I also worked on the wording and design of the new decals – the vinyl graphics which would feature in the windows of the shops.

Eight weeks with a company is both a short and a long time. In a business sense I think it would take a few years to really see a business evolve. ANTA’s plans for the future are very exciting, and if given the chance I would love to see how their plans to expand and potentially move internationally come into fruition. So in that sense I feel eight weeks isn’t quite enough, but I have also seen and achieved a lot. I have made some great business contacts as well as wonderful friendships, learnt a lot about business, and really found my place in the ANTA team.

One more week to go, let’s make the most of it!

From top left, visiting Katie in Troon, Mum and Dad come to Edinburgh, myself at the beach, and Claire, Eleanor and Heather – my ANTA sisters

It’s All About Balance – Week Five at ANTA

One of the lessons I have learnt on my internship is the importance of balance. Across ANTA’s different departments, balance comes into play – Production have to weigh up how much stock to produce versus how many orders they might get though, Accounts must balance their monthly budgets with retail sales, and Management have to consider the day to day running of the business as well as considering how it will perform long term. This idea of long and short term has been of particular interest to me, as I have been working within both aspects during my time at ANTA.

On Saturday I decided to even up my current Work/Life Balance and be a bit of a tourist in Edinburgh. I had a really chilled out day visiting bookshops and galleries and enjoying what the Grassmarket had to offer. A highlight was an exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery by Jim Lambie, a graduate from Glasgow School of Art. The first of his striking works was a room full of disorientating mirrored ladders. The rainbow ladders stretched to the ceiling and appeared to transform the space as you moved between them. Next I was led up the stairs by Zubop, an environmental artwork made up of hundreds of meters of multi-coloured vinyl tape, which covered the floor of the entire gallery. One of my favourite pieces was the colourful potato sacks which protruded crudely from the walls.

Lambie manages to take everyday objects (mirrors, hangers, tinfoil) and create something vibrant and beautiful which draws you in. I suppose you could compare his ethos to ANTA in a way – Annie has transformed tartan, something that is nowadays commonplace and mass-produced, using carefully balanced colours and created products and spaces that are elegant and enchanting.

Lambie's Technicolour Dreamworld
Lambie’s Technicolour Dreamworld

I had another lesson in balance on Saturday night as I precariously served champagne to guests at the Stewart Society dinner that was hosted in ANTA’s George Street showroom. The flagship store was transformed into a temporary dining hall, where Stewarts from around the world descended for a slap-up dinner, all prepared by my colleagues and I in the stockroom! For such a last minute affair, I think we managed to deliver quite the feast of roast beef, salmon, innumerable salads, and finished with strawberries and cream.

Clicking and Collecting – I had a fun day in Edinburgh taking lots of photos and picking up some bits and bobs at bookshops.
Clicking and Collecting – I had a fun day in Edinburgh taking lots of photos and picking up some bits and bobs at bookshops.